thechapbookreview

Moths Mail the House, poems by Michael Kriesel

MothsMailMoths Mail the House
Poems by Michael Kriesel
sunnyoutside, 2008
28 pages. 5″ x 5″, silk-screened cover, hand-stitched
First edition of 300
$10
ISBN 978-1-934513-13-2

Reviewed by J.R. Angelella

Choose-Your-Own-Destiny in Moths Mail the House

In Michael Kriesel’s chapbook Moths Mail the House, the poetic form dictates the narrative. When I first read through the collection, I was unsure of its aesthetic. Each line is stripped of punctuation and divided into columns, forcing the reader to approach from multiple angles. The poems can be read like a tic-tac-toe board, words pieced together from left to right, diagonally, or from top to bottom. The collection’s title poem is a fine example of the capacity and capabilities of Kriesel’s chosen form.

Every light’s on I’m drinking and writing all night

tan moths cover the black windows like crooked stamps

all the windows are covered with dozens of moths

like blank stamps dozens of moths mail the house

Here, the meaning of each line bends at different angles, burns at different intensities, and sounds at different frequencies. Essentially, the notion of desperation and darkness are explored, but depending on the angle and sum, the magnitude of the words changes. Without punctuation, each line has a questionable beginning and end, an unidentifiable birth and death. Some readers may read each poem as a long sentence, whereas others may insert mental punctuation, divide the carefully crafted words, and allow them to accrete in meaning. Set into columns, the words corrupt the white space and stretch the fabric of intention into a thin linguistic skin.

The poems appear aesthetically simplistic, easily broken into groups. Launching a critical cannonball into its depths though, the narrative structure changes posture and position. Most of the poems in the collection are three-column poems, but a few have four columns, a difference that, on the surface, seems merely an aesthetic choice. The form is an invertible choose your own destiny poem. There are no indicators directing traffic on the page, so while one may default to reading from left to right, one may just as easily veer off in different directions. The four-column poems only use one word per line per column. Even the titles are one word: “Silo,” “Souls,” and “Charm.” From “Silo”:

Wood slowly becomes light

silo tilts toward dawn

at first dawn silver

dawn light silver wood

As mentioned before, the four-column poems break from a strictly linear narrative to explore a kind of abstract florescence, littering words across the page like shattered mirror glass. A literal meaning is buried beneath an almost intangible poetic language, simultaneously exploring both the superficial and subterranean linguistic terrain. In addition, a lovely repetition beats about the poem and suggests multiple possible phrasings. The first word in every traditional “left to right” line can be replaced by the word below it. Or a different word can be selected in every column to make a new sentence. “Wood / light / becomes / dawn.” “Silo / slowly / silver / light.” “Dawn / first / dawn / dawn.” The possibilities are endless and beautiful, which may very well be the point.

How does one exit a maze of possibilities when the possibilities are devoid of direction and defined space?

When faced with the use of three-versus four-columns, nailing down some kind of formal rule becomes difficult, if not confusing. With so much authorial premeditation in the design of these poems, there needs to be an explanation for “Defrost,” an oddity that doesn’t fit between the two forms; it defies all explicability. As I flipped through the book’s grainy brown and beige pages, all the open space jumped out at me. Its beginning and end weigh heavy and wide with words. However, the middle poems, starting with “Defrost,” thin out.

scraping windshield wasp

sunlit frost thaws

frost melts moves

Here, the collection pumps the breaks and signals a turn off of the paved path towards an unfamiliar dirt road. This collection’s mission is to explore the desperate and tragic effects of loneliness. It allows a reader to choose his or her own path for a poem and, if unsatisfied with its trajectory, allows for another attempt to be made, another path to be chosen, another outcome sought. The poems stack images and words like bales of hay in a maze—bound cubes of identical product, arranged to form different designs. And, somehow, I kept coming back to the first poem, “Poetry Vending Machine.” Everything needed to navigate Kriesel’s work reveals itself here:

Last night Last night Last night

I was so I was so I was so

drunk depressed lonely

I tried I couldn’t that I

to call even call tried to

you but you call you

the phone so I on the

was just got broken

broken drunk phone

so I and you left

wrote this wrote this behind

poem poem

Which destiny will you choose?

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